One of the reasons I particularly love holidays is the simple ability to spend more time reading and listening to my i-pod. I’ve just returned from Berlin attending Folsom and the blog about it can be read here. Two very good and very different books read whilst there.
Feel good reading: ‘Alive, Alive Oh!: And Other Things That Matter’ by Diana Athill
This was the one I read journeying to Heathrow, at the airport and then on the plane. It’s a short book full of wonderful little life stories from somebody very chilled about getting old and dying (though cushioned by being both wealthy and articulate). I was left with an impression of looking back and being in the present to identify what gives personal peace and contentment. For me – reading and chilling particularly in cities with people. Diana largely communes with nature. I like nature but it doesn’t give me the chill that a city does. Berlin has helped me chill a lot as London can do much to many people’s suprise. Diana Athill is a wonderfully pleasant writer drawing on her personal experiences to give hope and guidance to others but not in a lecturing way.
Good sci-fi: ‘Children of Time’ by Adrian Tchaikovsky
This was my main Berlin reading book. It came very highly recommended and won this year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award. And I love a bit of sci-fi reading every now and then. I downloaded it to my kindle which gave me the easy opportunity to read it at any time including just walking down the strasse or wandering around tiergarten. It’s epic sci-fi. Indeed, it feels in many ways a lot like Asimov’s Foundation trilogy – a whole human history spread across centuries but self-contained in a ‘single’ volume. Tchaikovsky is over 600 pages long but a beautifully concise and coherent story. I am pretty sure it will be viewed as a sci-fi classic in time to come.
Look away if you don’t want to know the result
It’s a story of the end of mankind. Stretching out into the stars and terra-forming new planets. Life takes hold on one such planet just as life on Earth ends. An ark of frozen humanity journeys out and comes into contact with the terra-formed planet. But things have not turned out on the new planet as was intended. The dominant creature is not human. Who will win out for control of the planet? Tis always interesting how sci-fi is influenced by the time it is written in. Very true for Children of Time with concern about what is the long-term future of humanity? And also the role of Artificial Intelligence especially when it goes wrong.
Influencers on Children of Time
No doubting this is a good read but is it that original? I read it and could think of various influences. There are at least two Doctor Who adventures from their golden period on TV that the book harks back to – Jon Pertwee’s final story ‘Planet of the Spiders’ and Tom Baker’s great adventure where he meets frozen humanity and the insect-like Wirrn in ‘The Ark in Space’. But there are also films it links into for me including Battlestar Galactica with the insect planet that seeks to use the humans as food, the Alien films (humanity vs evil monsters), and even The Matrix with people locked in a hibernating state.
My criticisms of a very good reading book
The story takes place across thousands of years. I suppose that is my main criticism. The way centuries are turned into moments in time. Cleverly the author ensures that we have certain key characters who appear at relevant parts of the narrative though that does sometimes feel a wee bit contrived. My other criticisms would also be the soap opera element of parts of the story (like the ongoing love interest) to the point where I can see the TV programme / film this could lead onto. The ending also feels slightly rushed and contrived, almost too good to be true and not fleshed out nor explained sufficiently. And it feels like the door is open for a sequel – bad thing?
Dr Who audio-books
I also listened to two Dr Who stories as I walked about Berlin.
Red (seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy + companion Mel) – frustrating
An annoying story not least because both the Doctor and Mel come across at their irritating worst. The whole story reminds me a bit of Paradise Towers. The Doctor finds himself in a skyscraper where people live safe from violence but are actually aching to experience it. There is a dodgy computer overseeing it all. And even a character played by Sandi Toksvig. It’s all too syrupy for me and ultimately just left me feeling annoyed. Reminiscent of the Doctor at his lowest point in the eighties.
Mission to Magnus (sixth Doctor Colin Baker + companion Peri) – not quite as frustrating
Now this was far better. A real ‘lost’ story that was due to go out during the famous 23rd season that Michael Grade cancelled (because he hated Dr Who). It was written up as a book and then turned into an audio adventure. It’s a story that is fun but a bit like ‘Red’ in being reminiscent of what was bad in eighties Dr Who on the TV. There are a range of things forced into a single story including another Time Lord, Sil, and Ice Warriors. Also a dreadful precocious child actor (aka The Twin Dilemma) and a crazy story about a world being tilted on its axis and then being righted. There is also a dreadful sub-plot about tackling misogny. Overall, fun but a crazy concoction of just about everything that could be squeezed into one story.
My brilliant eclectic ipod
Also walking round Berlin I took time to listen to my ipod – old skool. I adore putting it on shuffle and just being delighted by what random stuff is thrown at me. This is a wonderful mix of stuff including pop, classical, and chapters of Dr Who stories. A brilliant and inspiring eclectic cacophany of sounds. Very stimulating for my own thinking.